Wendell World War II memorial found online in California, returning to town

After some detective work, a California man named Jim Gillio learned this World War II memorial originated in Wendell. He plans to restore it and send it back to the town for free.

After some detective work, a California man named Jim Gillio learned this World War II memorial originated in Wendell. He plans to restore it and send it back to the town for free. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

After some detective work, a California man named Jim Gillio learned this World War II memorial originated in Wendell. He plans to restore it and send it back to the town for free.

After some detective work, a California man named Jim Gillio learned this World War II memorial originated in Wendell. He plans to restore it and send it back to the town for free. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

After some detective work, a California man named Jim Gillio learned this World War II memorial originated in Wendell. He plans to restore it and send it back to the town for free.

After some detective work, a California man named Jim Gillio learned this World War II memorial originated in Wendell. He plans to restore it and send it back to the town for free. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Rebecca Hohmann, who lives on Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View, California, where her wife serves in the U.S. Air Force as a helicopter mechanic, poses with a World War II memorial she recently sold to Hollister, California, resident Jim Gillio. Gillio intends to have the memorial restored and returned to its rightful home in Wendell, Massachusetts.

Rebecca Hohmann, who lives on Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View, California, where her wife serves in the U.S. Air Force as a helicopter mechanic, poses with a World War II memorial she recently sold to Hollister, California, resident Jim Gillio. Gillio intends to have the memorial restored and returned to its rightful home in Wendell, Massachusetts. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/JIM GILLIO

U.S. Army veteran and woodworker Bernie Ramirez, pictured in his garage in Hollister, California, will restore this World War II memorial purchased by Jim Gillio. The memorial will then be returned to its rightful home in Wendell, Massachusetts.

U.S. Army veteran and woodworker Bernie Ramirez, pictured in his garage in Hollister, California, will restore this World War II memorial purchased by Jim Gillio. The memorial will then be returned to its rightful home in Wendell, Massachusetts. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/JIM GILLIO

The existing World War II memorial in the center of Wendell was used to cross-check the names on a wooden memorial found in California.

The existing World War II memorial in the center of Wendell was used to cross-check the names on a wooden memorial found in California. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 04-08-2024 5:01 PM

Modified: 04-08-2024 7:06 PM


WENDELL — Thirty-four states in this country have a Springfield. Twenty-four include a Madison. As for a Wendell, that number sits at five — in Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Idaho.

That’s why determining that the Bay State is the proper home of a specific World War II memorial took some detective work and collaboration from different corners of the United States.

Jim Gillio, of Hollister, California, was perusing Facebook Marketplace a few weeks ago when he spotted a wooden honor roll commemorating the service of men hailing from a “Town of Wendell.”

“This doesn’t look like something that should be rotting away in someone’s garage, so I wanted to bring it home,” he said.

So, Gillio set off to find where the memorial originated, starting with officials in Wendell, North Carolina. He was eventually emailed an internet photograph of the World War II memorial millstone in Wendell, Massachusetts, and the names matched up.

Gillio then emailed Town Coordinator Glenn Johnson-Mussad, explaining that he would love to restore the memorial over the next couple months and donate it back to the town. The Wendell Selectboard voted unanimously on April 3 to accept the donation and all three members lauded Gillio, who attended remotely, for his efforts.

“That’s amazing,” Vice Chair Gillian Budine said. “Thank you so much.”

Budine said she is very confident a proper spot will be found in town to display the restored memorial. While the Selectboard’s best guess is that the memorial may have been displayed in the Wendell Meetinghouse, the circumstances around its removal and voyage across the country are unclear.

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Gillio asked the Selectboard members if their town is large and Chair Laurie DiDonato informed him that the population is about 900 residents.

“That’s why you didn’t find us first,” Budine said to laughter.

Examining emailed photographs of the wooden memorial, Selectboard members immediately recognized common Wendell surnames, such as Wetherby, Noyes and Powling.

On Friday morning, Gillio purchased the memorial from Rebecca Hohmann, who lives about an hour away from him on Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View, California. She said she purchased the memorial from The Brass Armadillo Antique Mall in Phoenix while visiting her mother. She said she has no idea how it got to Arizona, adding to the item’s intrigue.

When it comes to the restoration effort, Gillio, a retired police officer and city council member, said he has recruited the help of U.S. Army veteran Bernie Ramirez, who served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970 and now heads the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post. Ramirez explained his son went to school with and played football with Gillio. He started woodworking as a hobby about 10 years ago and plans to restore the memorial in his garage.

“I am very, very excited about this,” Ramirez said. “I love restoring. I think that’s one of my biggest passions — seeing old things come to life.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or
413-930-4120.